1 How delightful are your dwellings, O Almighty LORD, to me! 2 For your courts my soul is yearning; in your house I long to be. Heart and flesh cry out aloud for the true and living God.
3 Even sparrows find their dwelling, and the swallow builds a nest Near your altar, LORD Almighty, where her offspring may have rest. 4 Blessed whose home is your abode, they are ever praising God.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, those who have a pilgrim’s mind. 6 Pools from autumn rains refresh them; springs in Baca’s vale they find. 7 Strength increasing, Zionward they go on their way to God.
8 Hear my pray’r, LORD God Almighty, and receive the plea I make. Listen to me, God of Jacob; hear me for your mercy’s sake. 9 Look upon our shield and bring favour to your chosen king.
10 One day in your courts is better than a thousand days elsewhere. Let me stay in my God’s temple— let me be a doorman there— Rather than find happiness in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD gives grace and honour; God will be a shield and sun. He will not withhold his blessing from the just and blameless one. 12 LORD Almighty, great and true, blessed the one who trusts in you.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to the tune Neander here or St Leonard here.
When Johannes Brahms wrote his ‘German Requiem’ (which you can hear here) around 1865 he chose to use several verses from Psalm 84 as part of the text. Written after his mother’s death, and that of a close friend, he used words from the Luther Bible in German rather than words from the traditional liturgy in Latin so the music could be immediately understood by his audience. ‘How lovely are thy dwellings’ is the text of the fourth movement and possibly the best known section of the work. Brahms paints a striking picture in sound of the beauty of God’s dwelling place and later on in the piece portrays the complexity and interdependence of all aspects of God’s Kingdom by the interplay of voices and accompaniment. You can find it on YouTube sung in English ( for accessibility to the words) by the Mormon Tabernacle choir or by the Westminster Abbey choir at the Queen Mother’s funeral. Either version is worth listening to whilst reading the Psalm reflectively.
Music can take words and lift them still further as we enter, with the Psalmist, into the indescribable and the ineffable. Here is a place of safety, security and delight where all of creation down to the tiniest bird is welcome in this vision of homecoming. Just as the Cornish ’Dewhelans’ (return or come back – which sounds very much like ‘dwellings’) calls the people back to where they most belong so we too are destined to live in those places of delight and security. There are many promises here of reassurance and anticipation. This is not the much despised ‘Pie in the sky bye and bye’ theme designed to keep people in their place. This is a living promise, yearned for and cried out for, that God will not withhold any blessing from those who trust. It is the promise that autumn rain will refresh after a hot sticky summer and that even the smallest of birds will build a nest close to the most sacred space of all.
Let us pray that we too can express and interpret the welcoming love of God to those in our audience, in language that everyone can understand, striving to describe the indescribable, finding words to show the overwhelming love of God to those around us. In life and in death Blessed is the one who trusts in you Amen
The Rev’d Carole Elphick is a retired minister and member of Muswell Hill URC in London.
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